in performance: forecastle (day 2)

jim james of my morning jacket performing last night at forecastle in louisville. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

jim james of my morning jacket performing last night at forecastle in louisville. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

“Roll the dice, set sail the ship,” sang a jubilant Jim James last night at the onset of My Morning Jacket’s homecoming/headlining set at Forecastle in Louisville. It was an apt greeting for such a nautically themed festival. But James was all about celebration as the tune, Believe (Nobody Knows), kicked off the last of several impressive performances by Kentucky rooted artists that highlighted the festival’s second day.

My Morning Jacket was easily the most prominent homegrown act of the bill and rewarded a crowd that had baked in 90-plus degree heat all afternoon with a set rich in summery sentiment, from the chiming guitars that propelled Mahgeetah to the mix of psychedelia and reggae-fied groove underscoring Off the Record to the almost militaristic strut of Compound Fracture. The latter, along with Believe, was pulled from the newest MMJ album, The Waterfall.

sturgill simpson.

sturgill simpson.

Logistics were in the audience’s favor last night. Jackson native and one time Lexingtonian Sturgill Simpson wound up a far reaching country-rooted set on a second stage just minutes before MMJ closed out the day on the mainstage.

Simpson’s performance came with plenty of roots savvy ingenuity. The set opening Sitting Here Without You summoned the spirit of Waylon Jennings, both in the rumbling tenor of Simpson’s vocals and in the tune’s sense of rambling fortitude. A few stabs at what the singer termed as “bluegrass” were really jet-speed honky tonk romps (including the sly Railroad of Sin), while later tunes (Some Days and the Sunday Valley favorite Sometimes Wine) strayed from concise country parameters into generous electric jams.

john medeski performing with the word.

john medeski performing with the word.

Perhaps the most under the radar Kentucky entry of the day was John Medeski. Though raised in Florida, he remains a Louisville native. Currently on a workman’s holiday from the avant-jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood, the keyboardist yesterday was co-piloting the sacred steel/jam band hybrid music of The Word.

It was often an uphill climb for Medeski’s organ and electric piano work to be heard over the electric wailing of guitarist Luther Dickinson and pedal steel powerhouse Robert Randolph. But despite a lopsided mix, the resulting blend of gospel, funk, soul and even country sounded suitably festive. Especially arresting was Medeski’s Rhodes-style keyboard colors during Glory Glory, one of only two vocal tunes (sung ably by bassist Chris Chew) in an otherwise instrumental performance.

chris stapleton

chris stapleton

The other Kentucky returnee was Lexington-born, Paintsville-raised Chris Stapleton, whose late afternoon country set was even more roots hearty than Sturgill’s performance.

Stapleton pens tunes of hard country sentiment with regularly subtle melodies. The title tune to his recent debut solo album Traveller – along with the record’s highlight tune, the proudly assertive Fire Away – were fine examples that distinguished his performance. The songs’ quiet intensity made them curious picks for a large outdoor festival. But Stapleton enforced them, along with his popular cover of Tennessee Whiskey and the more robustly rockish original Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey (cut when Stapleton was with his former band, The Steeldrivers, which perform at Forecastle today) with singing that owed as much to vintage soul as hard-bitten country.

There was also plenty of fine Forecastle music yesterday from bands without Bluegrass ties. They included

+ a tireless set by the husband and wife duo known as Shovels & Rope that offered blasts of big beat pop on such guitar/drum dominant tunes as Bridge on Fire and Hail Hail.

+ a lyrical though occasionally static performance by the Philadelphia band The War on Drugs that was a throwback of sorts to the metronomic cool of ‘80s alternative rock.

+ a punkish, politically themed outing from Conor Oberst’s recently reformed Omaha collective Desaparecidos weaved around brutish tunes like The Underground Man and Te Amo Camilo Vallejo.

+ a sampling of multi-generational soul from the New Orleans-based troupe The Revivalists that combined brassy bits of vintage R&B with song structures owing greatly to hip hop.



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